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"It was the recognizable event, if not the understandable commodity."

Thursday 10/12/23

Here is the whole of the second section of the first work in Big Asks: Six Novelettes About Acceptance, which I'm working on now.

Anything I encounter in terms of what is labeled "literary fiction"--a label I disdain and disavow with my own work, because it's so limiting--is always contrived. I am reading something that I know is false, that does not ring with truth. You see that contrivance in every clause. You don't "buy" it. You're not convinced. You're conscious of seeing someone trying to write.

Whereas, this here? This is pure story. No contrivance. Undiluted story. Realness.

And that's the only kind of writing that ultimately matters, because it's the only kind of writing that can actually do anything in the world, and is writing for the world.


Big Bob and Terry’s daughter Debbie was going to die. They’d known for years that she wouldn’t live longer than her early twenties. Her death wouldn’t be a surprise, though I suspect it always felt like one. A surprise that wouldn’t go away, a nightmare that sticks around after waking up and is present throughout the day.

She had a bone disease. That’s all I was told. I remember when she had band pins on her jean jacket, groups like Quiet Riot. Band pins on jean jackets were big, but it was as if you had to graduate from a tough-to-get-into school of coolness to wear them and not any ordinary school. And you had to be a certain age, which I wasn’t. Debbie was seventeen then. I think that’s when I began to know—but from a vast distance—what each day must have been like for the Big Bobs, how another day sliced off the calendar must have felt, or just when people started talking about Christmas before Halloween.

I thought Debbie was so cool—cooler than anyone had ever been—when she played me “Cum on Feel the Noize” by Quiet Riot. She said it was by another band first but I didn’t care, to me it was all Quiet Riot. She had a Quiet Riot pin and that was her best one, with this guy in a red straightjacket wearing a metal face plate. The metal meant heavy metal music, and despite apparently being in an asylum, this guy still managed to rock so hard that he had pins of the band members on this straightjacket of his.

During the “girls rock your boys” portion Debbie would mouth the lyric—just that one line—and look at me and nod her head in this kind of sing-song affirmative. It made me feel like we were really close, even though we were so far apart in age and in life, because she knew by then, too, and had for years.

I’d be over at the Big Bob’s on account that they were watching me and my sister while our parents went out of town, meaning to the town next to the town where my grandmother lived where there was what they optimistically called a holding center. My uncle Billy had a big-time drinking problem and they had to get him out of jail again, though at the time they said it was something to do with my grandmother and how the aluminum siding of a wall of her house needed fixing, but then again, that’s where Billy—because he still lived at home—had rammed some guy’s head and made a dent.

My dad told me once—and I knew he was never going to bring it up again—what happened when his own father was dying. He wouldn’t normally share that kind of thing. He kept a lot to himself, but not in the way that suggested that that was how you had to do it, too. It was just his way.

We were driving. I wanted him to go faster. I was late for hockey practice or whatever, and he made a remark about only being pulled over a single time before in his life, but it wasn’t a ha-ha funny joke or the boast of the scofflaw motorist. It was just one of those significant exchanges that isn’t planned, that happens at an odd time, like super early in the morning, when a fox is inclined to make its bold dart across the highway and no one has had a shower and the sleep is still in the eyes.

I asked why he was going so fast the time he was busted which was a stupid word on my part. I tended to default to sarcasm in the car with my dad. I think it was how I tried to impress him because he liked a good one-liner. He answered by saying because his father was dying and he wanted to see him one last time.

That’s what he told the motorcycle cop, and the cop contacted other cops ahead on the road, and they took my father right to the driveway of the house where Billy later made dents with people’s heads in the metal siding, and my dad saw his dad that last time. I didn’t skate well at that practice. I kept looking at my father in the stands to make sure he was watching.

I wondered whether Debbie did a version of that, too, or if Big Bob did with Debbie. When I went across the street to the Big Bobs, I tried to soak up that time and those people, the way they were right then.

Debbie and I watched He-Man, the cartoon. Skeletor would make his scheduled appearance with yet another plan to conquer the universe. That guy. Say what you will, he was adept at brainstorming new approaches. I was going to ask her if Skeletor was her mortal enemy on account of the bones, but ended up not doing that because of the word “mortal,” which would have probably been upsetting to her. And any bone talk couldn’t be good talk.

That word “mortal” itself made me sick, thinking about what was coming. Until then, you could be together. But the time was going, and if me and Debbie happened to listen to Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize,” I had to stop myself from thinking that maybe only one of us would ever hear it again. That was probably why I always brought it up so we could listen once more.

We heard “Cum on Feel the Noize” a lot together. I had sped up death in my mind, thinking it could happen at any time, but it remained a few years away and was understood to be a few years away. It was the recognizable event, if not the understandable commodity. Nothing would be coming out of nowhere. Something would just be coming. The rough timing was known. What that was actually going to be like—would feel like—wasn’t. Nor what it would do, besides the obvious.

Long before that day, but not as long as even now I wish it had been, that refrain of “I don’t know why,” from “Cum on Feel the Noize” had become more than a line in a song to me. It was a confession of truth thrown to the skies. One I somehow uttered again and again, but never officially said, which is what Quiet Riot was for and the role they played. I just thought it, and had it reaffirmed every time we listened to that song.

I also wanted to know if anyone did know, or could. Were they out there? Were they somewhere? Even if they lived in a tunnel in the moon that would have been someone and that’s something. Is there something always behind everything? If there was, you wouldn’t need to know as much, I figured. That seemed better.

I knew they looked awesome in all their long-haired metal band glory on a nickel-sized pin on the jean jacket that Debbie wore even inside of the house sometimes, but I had no idea that Quiet Riot, who had said what might have been the truest thing of all, could be so wise. Girls rock your boys indeed, forever and amen.


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